Monday, August 30, 2010

Happy Anniversary Karl Weiss!

Karl Weiss is a national primary and secondary school in Chiclayo. It is a tradition of the school to celebrate each annual anniversary with a week of activities. This year marks the 49th year of existence, and is also the 30th anniversary of Maribel’s 1980 graduating class.

There was an open house Saturday for alumni and any other interested visitors. The schedule of events indicated teachers would be on site at 9:00am to conduct mock classes with former students. We arrived at 9:30 to find freshly painted buildings but nobody there except a very angry school director who was fuming to no one in particular about the lack of organization. A student who happened to walk past at that moment was collared by the director and made to clean a restroom. Life is not always fair.

Maribel had no problem locating her former classroom and remembered exactly where she sat. Eventually one of her classmates showed up, but when we left two hours later there was no indication that anything was going to take place on this day, though it was still enjoyable to watch Maribel revisiting fond memories.

The parade on Sunday was a completely different story. It is a huge event. A ten square block area in the heart of downtown was closed off to accommodate all of the parade participants, which included at least 20 other schools who were invited to take part. Most parades involve military-style marching. There is competition involved, with prizes awarded for the best groups.

In the reviewing stand is Mayor Roberto ‘Beto’ Torres, the school director and teachers. The three young ladies hold the titles of Miss Karl Weiss, Miss Sports, and Miss Sympathy. The military officers seated below the stand are serving as judges for the marching competition. These kids work hard on their routines. The ‘goose step’ is the basic chorography.

Chiclayo’s mayor is a Weiss graduate. Mayoral elections are held next month, and participation allowed him to show his school spirit and do a lot of hand shaking. I think he’s a shoo-in but what do I know? After I took this photo a voice was heard asking.., “Who is the gringo taking photos?” Another voice responded with – “I think he’s the German Consulate.”

The proudly marching members of the class of 1980. I was impressed with the deep feelings the alumni showed for each other and for their school. At the close of the parade all of the classes got together for photos, shouted school cheers and exchanged phone numbers. The streets and adjoining restaurants were packed with exuberant revelers long after the parade had ended.

Not surprisingly the class of 1980 had lost track of each other, even though half of them still live in Chiclayo. They took the opportunity to catch up and talk about old times over ceviche and beer at a popular restaurant nearby. They are an interesting group of people and we’re looking forward to seeing them again for lunch tomorrow, which marks the end of this year’s celebration.

Tom & Maribel

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Visit to a Cemetery

Even as a kid cemeteries held an attraction for me. Sometimes when none of my buddies were around I’d get on my bike and spend an hour or so slowly riding through a nearby cemetery. The large expanses of manicured green grass, bouquets of multicolored flowers placed at grave markers, plus the trees and shrubs combined to create a place that was to me more beautiful than many parks. I never understood why people acted so solemn and reserved in cemeteries. Why not spread a blanket next to the graves of Uncle Tony and Aunt Martha and have a picnic? They liked picnics when they were living so why not include them now? Years later my fascination for cemeteries remained and was enhanced by an interest in genealogy. In searching for my ancestors I’d inevitably find myself in the older sections…the places where the ancient white stone markers are barely legible and in some cases have fallen over. Often I’d walk between the rows, stopping to look at a particular marker that for some reason caught my interest; wondering…”Who were you? What was your story? Did any of your dreams come true? Does anyone know you’re here, or that you even existed?” Decades later in a different country I’m still doing that same thing.

Some of the larger cities in Peru have newer cemeteries that are somewhat comparable to those described above with grass, trees and shrubs, but the vast majority of cemeteries in Peru are dramatically different. The city of Pimentel has a cemetery that is representative of those throughout the country. There are some that are better maintained while others - the vast majority, show little attempt at maintenance. Also common to many cemeteries are entrances that seem to offer something inside other then the surrounding desert, but they don't deliver on their promise.

Missing are the large expanses of green grass. In their place is the ubiquitous brown dirt and sand, except where here and there a wealthier family has placed a small patch of grass. The Pimentel cemetery has three distinct sections. This photo is of the ‘high end’ section immediately inside the entrance way. The fresh flowers indicate regular visitation and that the graves are probably relatively new.

This is one of the more grandiose monuments. There is room to accommodate twenty members of the Huhmanchumo Zuñe family, only one of whom has arrived thus far. Separate and to the right are newly constructed mausoleums built by the municipality.

The second section is more communal than the first. Instead of individual graves there are rows of older mausoleums. It appears that less than half of the vaults are being visited. I noticed that most of the death dates in this section were in the 1950s.

The third section is what I refer to as the ‘land of the forgotten.’ These were poor people. I suspect that even if their graves are being visited, there is no money for flowers or other remembrances. This is what the majority of cemeteries in smaller towns and villages look like.

As I wandered through the barren landscape in the poor area I stopped at this gravesite. I don’t know why this particular one; there were hundreds more like it. Still, I found myself wondering…“Who were you? What was your story? Did any of your dreams..."


Friday, August 20, 2010

Some unsolicited advice for men

This may seem like an unusual post…hell, it is an unusual post, but it’s something that’s been on my mind for awhile. Put it in the ‘for what it’s worth’ category.

During my time in Peru I’ve seen some human misery stories that could have and should have been avoided. In my opinion they were caused by immaturity, haste and illusory expectations.

I have been in Chiclayo for over two years and absolutely love it. For reasons that don’t need to be gone into now, the lifestyle that has evolved for me with my wife Maribel in Peru fits my temperament and personality like a glove. There are others who share a similar viewpoint. And then there are those who will tell you they can’t wait to leave this desolate, god-forsaken hell hole. Which is the real Peru? That answer depends on what you bring with you and what you expect. Peru is Peru with apologies to no one. We are all free to see it and make of it what we will, and then to praise or condemn it if we choose to. And we’re also free to use our heads to do a bit of thinking before packing our bags and buying a ticket to Lima.

Honestly, some of the characters who show up here are an embarrassment to me. One was recently banned from a coffee shop because of his annoying mannerisms. I don’t know if these guys were loose cannons back home, or if there’s something about Peru that causes them to act as they do, but I do know they act and look like fish out of water; completely unprepared for the realities of this part of the planet. If you’re a misfit and/or loser back home, chances are you’ll be a misfit and/or loser here too. Peru has no cure for you. Peru is not the wild, anything goes frontier outpost you may imagine it to be, though there is still enough of a taste of life in the raw to suit me. And it’s not fantasy land, where the natives strew flowers in your path and fall to their knees to pay homage to the gringo who has chosen to grace their shores. In fact, if you decide to come here without doing your homework first, you’re setting yourself up for failure, and Peru is likely to chew you up and spit you out before you know what happened.

And then of course there is the subject of male seeking female.

If you’re one of those guys looking for a hot Latina chica trophy, my advice is to stay home and grow up. There are still some naive women here who believe that because a guy is a gringo he is automatically educated, intelligent, honest and has a sincere heart, but they wise up quickly when confronted with a phony. They’re not stupid. And if you’re expecting a sex toy servant, you are in for one grande surprise. Respect and kindness are high on their list of desirable qualities in a man, and if they’re not genuinely present, well…neither will you be for very long. Of the gringo/Peruvian relationships that I am personally familiar with in Peru, slightly over 50% have failed or are presently in trouble. If I’m not mistaken, that is about the same percentage existing in the States, which proves the following – men and women are the same the world over. Building and maintaining a good relationship requires compatibility, honesty, respect, compromise, constant communication and lots of hard work. It’s no different in Peru or with Peruvian women except it requires even more work because of the cultural differences.

Guys…if you’re considering a move to Peru or a possible relationship with a Peruvian, you’ve got to understand that Peru is not Shangri-La, nor are the women oversexed Inca princesses waiting to serve your every whim. Save yourself some money and misery…take a long, hard, critical look at Peru, the woman you may be interested in, and most importantly yourself before entering into a situation that may prove difficult to get out of.

This concludes our advice segment. We will now return you to your normal programming.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Preparing for an earthquake

For the first time in Peru’s history a national disaster earthquake drill was held today all across the country. And for good reason…Peru has a long history of destructive quakes. The last major quake – 8.0 on the moment magnitude scale occurred on August 15, 2007 south of Lima. So far this year through July Peru has averaged 13 detectable quakes per month, and August has already seen 11 tremors.

Minor quakes are taken in stride by Peruvians and anyone else who has been here for some time, but it was a new experience for me when I experienced my first one two nights ago, after having lived here over two years. I was seated at the computer when I felt the chair I was sitting in begin to shake. I thought Maribel had snuck up on me and was joking around until I noticed the glass of Coke on the desk was moving. About the same time I realized what was happening, it stopped. It was a minor quake, centered 150 miles north of us. My impression was that of sitting in a gently rocking boat rather than the violent shaking I’d expected. Maribel had once told me that dogs would bark shortly before and during a quake; something I dismissed as folklore. It turns out she knew what she was talking about! During that quake it sounded like every dog in the world was barking outside our apartment.

Chiclayanos took this disaster drill seriously. At 10:00am when sirens began sounding the entire commercial district came to a standstill. People left the buildings, commercial and private to gather in the center of the streets or other designated ‘safe areas.’ Traffic came to a halt…the cars simply stopping wherever they were when the sirens started.

The only people who maintained their posts were the police and private security personnel. I had expected to see an increase in security, especially at places like this bank but that didn’t seem to be the case.

Schools also participated in the drill. These students from Jorge Basadre assembled in the principal park along with many other people from adjacent businesses and government offices.

Injury and rescue simulations were part of the drill. Here a ‘victim’ has been treated and is being taken to a local hospital. At left a member of the police investigations unit can be seen filming the activity…perhaps for a later critique. As I took this photo the thought of CSI – Chiclayo crossed my mind.

When the ‘all clear’ sounded people returned to their normal activity. These Ripley employees actually participated in a roll call with the store’s security personnel before returning to the store, which makes me think they may have a very thorough disaster plan of their own.

Maribel, Brian and I have a plan for what we will do in the event of a major earthquake, which includes having all of our important documents and money in a small bag that any of us can quickly reach. We think we have a good plan…I just hope we never have to use it.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Acacia trees and a Sunday afternoon

It was one of those Sunday afternoons. Earlier we had talked a bit over cups of coffee, tortured ourselves on our elliptical killer machine, had done some grocery shopping, and were now bored out of our skulls.

A stone’s throw from our apartment there is a small park with two acacia trees. I’ve often looked at the fallen seed pods as we walked past but never bothered to pick one up and examine it. What better day than today? It was sunny with no wind…a perfect park day.

The first thing I noticed was the variation in the length of the pods. Those I saw ranged from 4 to 14 inches. The second thing I noticed was how hard they are. You can bang them against concrete with barely a scratch – the seeds inside rattling as if they enjoyed the treatment.

Trying to open them is a humbling experience. Maribel had brought along a small screwdriver and attempted to use it with a rock to open the pods. As I watched her apply this high-tech method I had thoughts of Moche villagers doing this same thing on this same spot 2000 years ago, though with probably more success than we were having.

I was confident my trusty, constant companion knife would make short work of these pods. I was wrong. The material is as tough as the strongest wood, and the two halves require an unbelievable amount of force to separate them.

Once open there is a sort of beauty to them. They have the appearance and feel of a coarse grained wood. The notches for the seeds look as if they’ve been hand carved. Maribel is not aware of any use for the pods, but I’d be surprised if, where the trees grow in large numbers they aren’t being put to some use. Peruvians are resourceful and can usually find some use for anything.

This is the result of an hour’s worth of enjoyable labor. Now what to do with them?

We decided to do what any Moche villager would have done…we combined acacia seeds with seeds from the huayruro plant native to the Amazon jungle and strung them on a piece of natural fiber from the monofilament fishing line tree common to the Lambayeque Region and made a necklace.

And that’s what we did on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Tom & Maribel

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Piura…who are you?

From the largest cities to the smallest villages there is always at least one signature ‘something’ that establishes a town’s identity/character in my memory. After several visits I still haven’t found Piura’s identity. It’s got a nice enough principal park, with probably the most butt-friendly benches I’ve sat on. Yes…I pay attention to that sort of thing. The pace is noticeably slower and more relaxed including the taxi drivers who, contrary to Chiclayo drivers seem not interested in terrorizing pedestrians. But there are still too many people and cars competing for limited space. It is only in the very small towns and villages that the ratio of people to space becomes acceptable, at least for me.

I’m not saying there is nothing of interest or worth seeing. In my experience Piura’s Tourist Information Office is exceptional. A uniformed staff member escorted us to a desk where we sat in comfortable chairs as she dispensed maps, brochures and information in an obviously well scripted presentation, and upon completion was adept at answering questions and offering advice in both Spanish and English. It’s a very good thing we had those maps.

Maybe that’s the problem with Piura – everything blends into everything else. The Admiral Grau Museum and Mansion blends into the adjoining buildings with only the lettering to identify it. The Vicûs Museum featuring displays of art, gold and history is so invisible to passersby that it appears to have been intentionally designed to keep its identity secret. We walked past it twice, thinking it was one apartment building among others. The Ignacio Merino Central Bank’s Gallery is equally invisible. If it had not been for the maps given to us at the tourist office, I don’t think we would have found any of the attractions, which would have been a shame because though small, they are well worth seeing. The modest Plaza del Sol shopping mall anchored by Saga Falabella sits inside a block of office and retail buildings. Here again there is nothing to call attention to it. We discovered it accidently while eating at a restaurant across the street. Incidentally, four out of seven stalls in the mall’s food court are unoccupied…usually an indication that a mall is in decline.

Anyway, back to the Grau Museum. Exploring the house and its exhibits would be interesting enough, but we had the added attraction of Maribel’s connection to the family. An inner courtyard contains a larger than life statue of Grau, and Maribel took the opportunity to commune with her famous ancestor.

If there is a uniqueness about Piura it is probably the three bridges spanning the Piura River. It is my understanding that the Sânchez Cerro bridge and Bolognesi bridge (pictured here) both collapsed during the El Niño flooding in 1998.

The San Miguel pedestrian bridge survived El Niño intact. Beyond its practical use it seems to also serve as a promenade/boardwalk, though the mostly dry river course doesn’t fall into the eye pleasing category.

Piura has the distinction of being known as the "Ciudad del eterno calor" meaning "The city of the eternal heat." That proved to be the case when we were there. August is the middle of winter in Peru. In Chiclayo, only 125 miles south of Piura, cold drinks and ice cream have mostly been abandoned during the winter as days are cool (low 70s) and nights with a stiff wind can border on cold (mid 50s). During our visit to Piura the literally frozen Inca Kola served at a restaurant (we were initially unable to pour it from the bottle to glass) and double scoop of goat milk ice cream were a welcome refreshment. It was hot!


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Visiting an Ostrich Farm

There is an interesting history and human interest story behind Ricardo’s Ostrich Farm. In 1990 Ricardo Castañeda resigned his position as a governmental administrator, moved from Chiclayo and became a sheep farmer. In a relatively short time he had a successful wool business, but in 1995 in an effort to stimulate the region’s economy the government distributed 10,000 sheep to several collective farms. The price of wool plunged and Ricardo as a private farmer was forced out of business; selling his sheep for $20 each after having paid $220 for them. Looking for a new business opportunity, he came across information on ostrich farming. The first obstacle was getting permission from the government to import and raise birds that have never before been in the country. After one and one-half years he was given permission, and selling all of his personal possessions, went to the States to ‘intern’ on an ostrich farm. In 1997 he was back in Peru with 11 baby birds. He has had several set-backs since then, including an incident in 2000 when a low flying plane frightened the birds and caused them to run into fences, injuring themselves. Twenty four of the injured birds had to be killed, but the business recovered and appears to be showing steady growth.

There were 102 very big birds resident on the day we visited Ricardo’s farm, located only 10 minutes by moto from the town of Pimentel. Seventy-two of them were ostriches and thirty were recently introduced emus. It will cost you $1.75 to tour the farm, but you’ll get a lengthy and complete tour by Ricardo’s son Luis plus the opportunity to feed alfalfa to the birds, like this big male who is not bashful about nearly wrenching your arm out of the socket and making you feel as if you’re being mugged rather than feeding Tweety.

While he doesn’t mind being fed – in fact almost demands it, he will not tolerate being touched. He was not biting, but his wings were flared and he was delivering some thunderous kicks to the fence rails. They can kick with a lethal force of 500 pounds per square inch. They can also run at 40mph for over 30 minutes, so it’s not a good idea to irritate an ostrich. For me this guy’s only redeeming quality is those massive drum sticks, which are delicious….and relatively expensive by Peruvian standards.

Ricardo’s sells ostrich meat to the public for $5.66 per pound. They also sell to one of the better restaurants in Chiclayo. An average ostrich weighs about 215 pounds and will yield about 50 pounds of meat; mostly thighs and loin, which translates to $283 for the meat value. In addition there is also income derived from the blood (food purposes), the oil rendered from fat (cosmetics), the skeleton which is reassembled and sold to university medical schools, and from the skin which is used to manufacture products such as shoes and purses. The feathers are used to make feather dusters and other items, so there is virtually no waste involved.

A hen ostrich can lay anywhere from 40 to 100 eggs annually, weighing from 3.5 to 5 pounds. The male ostrich digs a large depression in the ground where the female deposits the egg. Ricardo collects the eggs and transports them to an incubation facility in Chiclayo where they will hatch in 42 days. Three days later the chicks are returned to the farm. We didn’t see any young birds and neglected to ask where they were.

The emus are considerably smaller and less aggressive but their manners are not any better. Emu eggs are about 1/3 the size of an ostrich egg and are dark green in color. The meat is supposedly similar to ostrich, which in my opinion is very close to good beef. Ricardo does not plan on selling emu until their numbers have increased.

Each adult bird eats 4.5 pounds of feed each day, comprised of corn, rice and several types of seeds and beans. From the look on the face of this emu I’d say it didn’t get its share on this day.

One bit of advice if you visit the farm…ask the moto driver to wait for you. There is virtually no traffic on what amounts to the dirt path and it is a 30 minute walk at a steady pace back to town.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

La Cocina del Yayo

Update: March 2011 - Sad to say this restaurant is closed. The Leigh family has moved back to Ecuador.

I’ve mentioned several times in past entries that new restaurants are opening at a rapid pace in Chiclayo. Maribel and I try to visit as many of the new major restaurants as possible, both out of curiosity and to determine if they rate a spot on our ‘favorites’ list. Most of them we never go to again, usually not because of some glaring deficiency, but because there’s nothing, well…special about them. That changed recently when we discovered a new restaurant in our neighborhood at Av. Libertad 217 Urb. Santa Victoria.

La Cocina del Yayo opened in March of this year. It is owned and operated by the Leigh family, comprised of Eduardo, his wife Flor de Maria and their daughter Johana. Prior to opening in Chiclayo the family had a restaurant in and are natives of Guayaquil, Ecuador. As I understand it, though they dearly love Ecuador, it was the booming Peru economy that brought them to Chiclayo. And we’re glad they came because their restaurant presently ranks numero uno on our favorites list.

Why? One big reason is because it’s absolutely spotless. Everything that should be shiny is brilliant. The woodwork is clean and polished. The restrooms and supplies are well maintained. After five visits we have yet to find a single smudge on a glass or piece of silverware. Another reason is the relaxing décor, designed by Johana and her mother, and soft, soothing music (pay attention you other restaurateurs!). There is the choice of eating inside or in a rear veranda area where you can watch and be serenaded by colorful birds. The phrase ‘total dining experience’ is overused, but based on our experience it is appropriate here.

The Chiclayo office of health has apparently also been impressed and has presented the restaurant with a plaque and certificate of recognition, shown here by Jessica and Eduardo; something I have not seen displayed in many Chiclayo restaurants.

A large part of the pleasure in eating here is because of Jessica (Johana is seated at left). She is by far the most efficient and professional waitress (it seems somehow demeaning to refer to her as that) I have seen in Peru. She places everything in the proper position at the proper time with the proper motions and does it all invisibly. She is there when wanted and transparent when not. She has a charming personality and carries herself with a quiet dignity. La Cocina del Yayo would be wise to do whatever is necessary to retain her services.

The food is consistently delicious, but be prepared to wait awhile for it to arrive, because everything is cooked fresh with attention to detail. Brian and I like fetuchini en salsa de huancaina y lomo, while Maribel frequently asks for pollo en salsa de champiñones. Other favorites are chicharron de pollo and pescado, lomo saltado, and pollo a la brasa, though this last is available evenings only. On Sundays Cabrito (goat with rice and beans) are a favorite meal, and the goat at Cocina del Yayo is the most tender we have eaten.

Our handful of favorite restaurants all have at least one and usually two of the qualities we look for in a restaurant…pleasing atmosphere, quality food and good service. La Cocina del Yayo has all three.